BANGKOK – Thailand's blunt-speaking prime minister had some advice Tuesday for his country's young women: Don't dress too revealingly, or you will be shunned like a piece of toffee without its wrapper.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha offered the observation to reporters as Thais prepared to kick off their traditional New Year celebration, known as Songkran. The holiday comes at the hottest time of the year and is best known for the enthusiastic splashing of water upon friends and strangers alike, a practice that sometimes takes on a sexual edge, including the molestation of women.
Thailand's military government already had announced that it would try to discourage lewd behavior and dress as inappropriate for the country's culture.
"During Songkran, I ask that women wear proper clothes, Thai style, so they would look good and civilized," said Prayuth, who has two grown daughters. He said that in his opinion, women "are like toffee or candy," which people would not like to eat if already unwrapped.
Prayuth went on to qualify his own advice, saying that some nicely wrapped candy will stay on the shelf for years no matter what.
The prime minister, a former army commander, is best known for blasting his political opponents, but has controversially commented before about what he thinks is appropriate attire for women.
Shortly after two young British tourists were murdered on a beach on the resort island of Koh Tao -- the woman was also raped -- Prayuth wondered aloud whether tourists wearing bikinis were courting danger.
"This has always been a problem ... they think our country is beautiful and safe and they can do whatever they want, wear bikinis wherever they like. I'm asking if they wear bikinis in Thailand, will they be safe? Only if they are not beautiful," he said
in September 2014, after the deaths of David Miller and Hannah Witheridge. He apologized shortly afterward, saying he only meant to warn tourists to be careful.
Prayuth's latest remarks drew criticism from Usa Lertsrisantat, director of the Foundation for Women, who said he should use his influential position to speak in a more helpful way.
"He should be sending a message to people who do not respect women's rights as well," she said. "He warns women not to wear revealing clothes, and he should warn men to respect women's rights, too. Women are not toffees or candies, we are human beings."
"When something bad happens, you can't just say that it happened because of how women dress," she said.